LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – Not a very smart thief, stealing lab tools contaminated with radiation from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Investigators believe a LANL contractor might have done just that, and put the public at risk in what is just the latest problem with theft at the high security lab.
Los Alamos Police are calling the man a “person of interest,” but not a suspect.
Richard Atencio, an employee of Compra Industries, had total access to LANL’s Technical Area-54, which is a radioactive waste storage area.
The incident started as a theft, but quickly turned into a full-on HAZMAT situation last month.
According to a search warrant, on September 29, a witness saw a man in a brown shirt throwing things out of the trunk of a Honda Accord into bushes on LANL grounds. The man was tossing the things across the way from TA-54, where items have been reported missing over the past year.
Los Alamos Police came out to the scene of the dump and found a laundry list of stuff. One of the items, a band saw, had “TA-54” on it, meaning it was likely contaminated. Turns out, it was, along with a pair of gloves and a bag.
Police tracked down Richard Atencio, who was wearing a brown shirt and owns a Honda Accord.
When officers searched Atencio’s Accord, they noticed his trunk carpet was missing.
A HAZMAT sweep of his car found radiation levels on Atencio’s steering wheel, gear shift and passenger door.
The FBI then searched Atencio’s Española home on October 9, suspecting he might have contaminated his own stuff.
No LANL property or radioactive items were found.
Atencio has not yet been charged with anything. LANL didn’t comment on the thefts; the company that Atencio works for, Compra Industries, didn’t get back to KRQE News 13.
The search warrant also revealed a disturbing fact, that there have been 76 reported cases of theft of LANL property by LANL employees in the last year.